Summary: The Refrigerator Monologues is for anyone who ever got upset at the way women were treated in comic shows, movies or books.
The lives of six female superheroes and the girlfriends of superheroes. A ferocious riff on women in superhero comics
From the New York Times bestselling author Catherynne Valente comes a series of linked stories from the points of view of the wives and girlfriends of superheroes, female heroes, and anyone who’s ever been “refrigerated”: comic book women who are killed, raped, brainwashed, driven mad, disabled, or had their powers taken so that a male superhero’s storyline will progress.
In an entirely new and original superhero universe, Valente subversively explores these ideas and themes in the superhero genre, treating them with the same love, gravity, and humor as her fairy tales. After all, superheroes are our new fairy tales and these six women have their own stories to share.
Catherynne M. Valente was born on Cinco de Mayo, 1979 in Seattle, WA, but grew up in in the wheatgrass paradise of Northern California. She graduated from high school at age 15, going on to UC San Diego and Edinburgh University, receiving her B.A. in Classics with an emphasis in Ancient Greek Linguistics. She then drifted away from her M.A. program and into a long residence in the concrete and camphor wilds of Japan.
She currently lives in Maine with her partner, two dogs, and three cats, having drifted back to America and the mythic frontier of the Midwest.
Casey Marie: Was there a specific superhero story that led to The Refrigerator Monologues or was the novel created in response to a number of them?
Catherynne M. Valente: Gwen Stacy was the big thruster underneath this space shuttle. When I saw the last Amazing Spiderman movie, I was so upset and furious that her last words were quite literally “Nobody makes decisions for me!” before running off to get immediately punished for making her own decisions with a snapped neck. It felt so unfair. Men never say things like that in movies, it’s taken for granted that they make their own choices. And it brought to mind Gail Simone’s concept of “girls in refrigerators,” all those women in comics who are murdered and brutalized as a set piece in the much bigger and more important story of the male hero, just to give him something to clench his jaw about. The title came to me in the bar right after the movie—when I get mad at something, I tend to throw art at it until I feel better.
CM: What do you hope readers take away from The Refrigerator Monologues?
CMV: I hope they take a sense of righteous anger at the similarity of all these fates reserved for women—there are six in my book, and hundreds in the history of superhero comics. I hope they take an enjoyment of the story itself, a love of the characters, a love for these women’s stories that’s just as strong as a love of more traditionally heroic characters. I hope they see things in the glut of superhero stories that our culture is so in love with right now that they might not have before. I hope they laugh. I hope they cry. I hope they think a little differently about the “side characters” in these kinds of stories, and a little differently about the heroes. But mostly I hope they enjoy the book for itself, whatever other truths or untruths they might find in it.
CM: If you were a superhero, what would you call yourself and what ability would you want to possess?
CMV: I would definitely want to be a shapeshifter. Since I was a kid, that was always my answer to the superpower question. I gotta tell you, though, I am all out of names. It actually took longer to figure out 30-some superhero names that have never been used in the history of comics than to write the entire book. I used up all my best ones, so if I were a hero, I’d be like the cobbler’s kid with no shoes of her own. Maybe your readers can give me my superhero name!
CM: Superheroes also have an insignia and color scheme, what would yours be?
CMV: Dark burgundy and glitter-black, definitely. Or maybe something like the glossy ibis—they’re an amazing birds with purplish green-black feathers that hang out near my house and I’m obsessed with them. They are my aesthetic. Maybe I could have a claw as my insignia. Lots of different kinds of things have claws…
CM: Superhero films are known to have an epic soundtrack, what is the soundtrack of The Refrigerator Monologues?
CMV: Oh, probably something by Hole. Or Garbage. Or Patti Smith. Old school girl rockers mad at the world.
CM: What were the advantages and challenges of creating your own superhero universe?
CMV: It was certainly challenging to create something all my own that would still be instantly recognizable to comics fans, recognizable enough that people would know what I was yelling at and/or about, the particular story I’d be skewering, without just filing the VIN numbers off of someone else’s work. But in the end, I fell in love with the universe I made. Superhero stories are all about archetypes, so it’s no different than re-telling a fairy tale. You pull out the essential ingredients and take away the specifics of the original story—ok, so this one was a scientist and broke her neck, this one lived in Atlantis, this one ended up doing porn—and they just become building blocks that anyone could use in any story and has. All comics take inspiration from other comics, and postmodernism is all about homage. I feel about superhero comics the way Tarantino feels about 70s kung-fu, and what I’ve done is very similar, I think. I could very happily write a comic series in this universe, with these heroes and villains. These stories wink broadly at the audience, but they are their own. If I can tell Cinderella from the point of view of the slipper, I can tell a superhero story from the point of view of the girlfriend, easy.
CM: If you had to be roommates with one of your characters, who would you chose and why?
CMV: Well, Paige Embry would always pay the rent on time. And I’m pretty sure she’d be good about her half of the chores. But I think in the end Samantha Dane and I would get along best. Two artist girls in a loft not dying together. Sounds pretty nice. We’d never run out of things to talk about, and she’s a gamer. We have more in common. STEM girls like Paige are too together and responsible. Sam and I would draw on the walls and lose our deposit but we’d have so much fun.
CM: What aspects of writing The Refrigerator Monologues were easier or more difficult than your previous works?
CMV: Honestly? Writing RM was a dream. My partner was just saying he remembered that winter as one of the best times in our lives because I was so happy with the work I was doing, and so eager to get back to it. The hardest part was not writing more! I’d love to go back to the universe at some point, there’s so much more there. I’m still in love with all of them, I didn’t want to let them go.
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6/10: Quarzfeather - Review
6/11: Megnificent Books - Q&A
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THE REFRIGERATOR MONOLOGUES
THE REFRIGERATOR MONOLOGUES